Longer life, more services are bearing suppliers' goals

DN Staff

May 1, 2000

4 Min Read
Longer life, more services are bearing suppliers' goals

Customers are demanding more services from bearing suppliers today, and the suppliers themselves are striving to develop more rugged products that will have longer lives, says Hammond.

Design News: What are the major trends in the bearing industry today?

Hammond: Customers are asking their suppliers to do more.

On the technology side, we are continually trying to get longer life from our bearings and the equipment they go into. As an example: Class 8 truck manufacturers previously required bearing lives of 500,000 miles and now they want a million miles or more. To test these improved bearings, we need to develop accelerated tests in the laboratory to predict their performance in the field. And as always, we need to increase this performance without substantially increasing the cost.

There is also a trend towards developing bearings that can operate at elevated temperatures. Previously, bearing manufacturers tempered the steel at higher temperatures to obtain acceptable dimensional stability, but that reduced steel hardness and thus fatigue life. We, at NTN, are solving that problem by adjusting the material chemistry and heat treatment so the bearings actually offer improved fatigue performance and excellent dimensional stability at higher temperatures.

In the automotive industry, smaller, lighter bearings such as our ECO tapered roller bearings are performing better then the ones they are replacing and improving fuel efficiency. There is also a trend towards developing bearings with complex raceway geometry to better manage the distribution of stress within the bearing.

Another trend is developing bearings that cope well in contaminated environments, for example, in applications where there is a common lubricant for many components. This is an area where NTN has many advanced materials offering excellent performance.

Q: Is lube for life possible?

A: Yes, definitely: however, you must select the right lubricant for the specific application. Today's greases have improved significantly and NTN spends a great deal of time testing them. Frequently when bearings are re-lubricated in the field they are contaminated or over-filled. That's why we are a proponent of lube for life bearings. Regarding oil lubrication, we have patented the HL (High Lubrication) process, which modifies the surface texture of the rolling element to improve the bearing's performance. The HL process is especially effective under marginal or boundary lubrication conditions that occur under slow speeds or when low viscosity oils are used.

Q: What are the trends for integrating sensors and other components with bearings?

A: There is a definite growing trend and we are involved in several programs. NTN has developed an angular sensor unit on a wheel loader that knows the angle of the bucket relative to the machine. We have also developed the use of sensors that allow us to measure the specific loads a bearing is supporting in its application. This allows our customers to measure the actual duty cycle of a bearing to aid in their design.

Q: How is the Internet affecting bearing technology and bearing suppliers?

A: The Internet allows bearing manufacturers to have their information available quickly, 24 hours every day, and to a wider audience. We have our catalogs and technical brochures in a downloadable format on our website (www.ntnamerica.com) and the search engine easily leads the user to the correct bearing, providing specifications, drawings and interchanges. The speed of information exchange the Internet provides is key to future growth.

Within the year we will be able to communicate shipping and delivery information over the Internet to customers, particularly distributors, about uncommitted inventory available for sale. Additionally, thanks to computer technology, we can use digital cameras in the field as well as in our laboratories to take photographs of bearings and create electronic reports that can be e-mailed anywhere in the world in seconds.

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